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Prof. Akin Oyebode: When Preference for Professorship Weighed Against Lure For SAN

law personality
Posted: Sep 15, 2016 at 1:04 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Professor Akin Oyebode is an interviewer’s delight and much more. A natural teacher who measures his success by the success of his products in the marketplace of life, STEPHEN UBIMAGO writes that the more Oyebodes of this world there are, the better for the country…

At the Faculty of Law of the University of Lagos, where he teaches Jurisprudence and International Law, the revered Professor Akin Oyebode not only evokes the image of a consummate intellectual with his bouncy hoary hair, brilliant command of the language, excellent lecture delivery, poise and all; he is also for all this greatly admired and loved by students and the faculty alike.

Thus, one could easily sense the satiation his students exude even from a distance, as it is not hard to tell its source: a sense of privilege from being taught and mentored by such a seasoned legal scholar, for whom other law faculties are willing and ready to trade their legs and arms to acquire.

Indeed, the University boasts one of the largest law faculties (teaching staff of professors and lecturers) in Nigeria, however in conversations among themselves, a student’s indication like, “I have Prof’s class today,” require no further explication as to who the curt appellation of “Prof” referred to.

Not many are aware however that part of the influences that molded him and imbued the accomplished academic with his unmistakable urbaneness and élan is the fact that he is a also the product of a middle-class background.

In an interview, he gave this indication thusly: “If you lived in the GRAs under colonialism, you don’t need anyone to tell you the type of upbringing that I had. With the friends I had, there was no serious challenge. I had all the things that young people of my type were supposed to have.

“I had good atmosphere. I enjoyed riding bicycles, playing with toys, watching cartoons, solving puzzles, painting with crayons and everything that I wanted. At that time, we lived ‘Sheltered life’. It was a different lifestyle for children who lived in the GRA. We were all of middle class potentials.

“We had television and telephone when it was introduced in Nigeria. I went to school with people from Southern Police College, Shogunle, Maboju village and from GRA.

“I don’t know what the GRA looks like now. I think it is a different thing now. In our time, there were no walls unlike now that GRA is surrounded with walls. What we had then were hedges with people’s names written on the gates of the house.

“I believe nobody will be bold enough to do that now. We just had gardens, courts, gardeners, hedges well trimmed and properly taken care of and that was the GRA of the 50s. I remember the first time, an all-night party was held in Ikoyi at late Justice Agoro’s residence and people were gassed.

“We used to have Public Works Department, PWD that changed our bulbs regularly. All the colonial structures were built for white people. The few African families that were living in the GRA were grudgingly tolerated.

“There were special shops including Kingsway in the GRA. The Europeans had their Lagos Country Club which admitted only the Europeans. The Lagos Country Club then was located in what is now called Murtala Mohammed Airport.

“My family was among the few African families who lived a sheltered and protected life during the colonial era. Those who lived in these special areas had quality of life which was superior then. I have the most fascinating experience as a child. And growing up was fun.”

Oyebode is a professor of professors; a natural teacher for whom teaching is the end-all-and-be-all, a profession for which there is no match.

Having taught Law for over 40 years, most of which period was spent in Unilag, he indicated that he derives his fulfillment from watching his products ride the tide of happy exploits in the legal profession.

He explained thus: “When I came to University of Lagos, I didn’t give it a second thought to choose an academic for a profession.

“I see my success in the success of my students. I have taught over 20 Judges in Lagos State. Some of them are in the Court of Appeal, while others have either been Governors or Deputy Governors.

“There was a time I counted seven Attorneys General in this country that have passed through my class. For me, this is enough satisfaction.”

Professors Taiwo Osipitan, Imran Smith, Amos Utuama, among others are all of the Faculty; they’ve all taken silk as Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) too.

Interestingly, they’d been Oyebode’s students at the Faculty. But Prof has no enthusiasm to take silk. He says he is very contented being an academic and attaining the apogee of his career as professor.

His students have often recalled how he’d habitually interjected his lecturers with riling excoriation of the institution of SANship and about how his former students who could make his elevation to the rank easily happen had practically begged him to apply for it so they could act as facilitators. He’d however politely declined with, “thank you” for their gratuitous solicitation.

He stated in this connection that “Some people proposed that I should become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria but I opted out.

“I don’t know what I need a SAN for. I studied hard as a professor. Professorship is the highest level of attainment in a University. Every other thing is in-between, be it a head of a department, dean or vice chancellor.

“After serving as a vice chancellor, I came back to teach. I am totally fulfilled in the job that I do. I don’t try to please anyone because I feel a sense of absolute freedom and fulfillment when I’m doing what I love doing.

“I’ve never done anything outside the academic world except when I was a radio broadcaster after my Form Six. I’ve been in the academic world either as a teacher or as a manager.”

Prof. Oyebode has never hidden his vivacious love for Unilag. Aside from the fact that he did cut his academic teeth in the University and grew to become a professor of Law in the institution, Unilag also produced the woman who later became his wife. Interestingly, too, many of his children are products of the institution.

According to him, “My wife studied in the University of Lagos but I didn’t know her then until her National Youth Service Corps, NYSC year.

“We met on a blind date and it was just a relationship made in heaven. God enabled us to come together. I met a woman who shared my pan-Africanism as well as my radical socialist sentiments and we have been married for 33 years.”

Oyebode’s may have shed much of his socialist proclivity but like old habits that die hard, he still espouses its vestiges, a tell-tale of his university training in defunct Soviet Russia.

He explains: “I was inspired to be an academic by one of my professors in Kiev State University, Kiev, Ukraine who become a member of the International Law Commission.

“He taught me to be dedicated and diligent to work. So, I thought it will be wise to emulate such a dedicated lecturer.

“My first three years were frustrating in the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos. I was not given a subject to teach. My colleagues thought all I knew was guerrilla warfare but after a while, I was allowed to teach.

“It was a funny scenario but it’s no longer the case with graduate Soviet Institutions of Economy. I was the first Soviet trained lawyer to be appointed into an academic position in any Nigerian University.

“And as a pioneer, there was a price to pay. For instance, I was denied admission to the Nigerian Law School for sixteen years because no graduate of Soviet Institutions would be admitted to the Nigerian Law School.

“But, my friend, Jelili Omotola, fought a human battle to ensure that those of us who had taught Law for at least five years could be allowed into the Law School.

“At that time, I had a ten years experience as a lecturer. That is why I have only 20 years post-call experience. I was called to the bar in 1991.

“Another challenge was getting a doctorate. I never thought that I needed a doctorate but my friend, Jelili Omotola advised me to pursue my doctorate degree.

“He said, PhD is another qualification, for without an ultimate qualification, there is certainty that people will doubt one’s competence despite one’s brilliancy.

Omotola convinced me that there is nothing to be compared with a PhD. So, I thought it wise to go to Toronto in 1981 to pursue a doctorate in Law, after obtaining a Master of Laws (LLM) from Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Born in Ado-Ekiti on December 9, 1947, Professor Oyebode hails from Ikole Ekiti.

He was the Vice Chancellor of Ekiti State University (formerly University of Ado Ekiti, UNAD) and currently a Professor of International Law and Jurisprudence at the University of Lagos.